The Grandest of Them All: Disneyland’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
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To The Point
The Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is the best of the best at Disneyland. Pros: Updated rooms with comfortable beds and plenty of power, gorgeous pool and comfortable loungers and a great variety of food options. Cons: No bathtub and high prices everywhere you turn.
Disneyland and Disney World are as similar as apples and oranges. They are both in the same category of magical theme parks, but they are also worlds apart in many respects. Not surprisingly, both have their legions of diehards who consider “their” park to be the best. I’m a Disney World gal at heart, but a recent trip to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland made me fall in love with its simplicity and unique rides. I also had the chance to stay at two of the three official Disneyland hotels: the namesake Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
While the Disneyland Hotel has been around since the 1950s, the Grand Californian is a much newer addition to Disneyland that opened in 2001 and was recently renovated. If you have ever stayed at Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, the Grand Californian at Disneyland is likely to look familiar.
You can often book the three Disneyland resorts using some type of points (such Citi ThankYou points from the Citi Premier card via the Citi Travel Center).
You could also use fixed-value miles such as those from Discover it Miles to book your Disneyland stay and then use the miles from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per mile to cover the charge.
Related: Use promo code TPG10 to price Disneyland vacations via Getaway Today.
Another option is to rent Disney Vacation Club points and potentially pay less. If you can find availability, you can sometimes save up to about 50% on the retail price of the stay at the Grand Californian. There are tradeoffs (such as the lack of daily housekeeping), but stays in the least busy season of the year in studios start at 17 points per night. Disney Vacation Club points rented from David’s Vacation Club Rentals typically cost $17 per point, resulting in an all-in cost of $289 per night. (Here’s our review of the service.) If you stay on rented DVC points, you also avoid the $25-per-day self-parking fee.
For our dates, the only available option was booking directly with Disney, so we used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points for the stay. Booking with discounted Disney gift cards is another route to saving money.
Disney’s Grand Californian is between Downtown Disney and the Disney’s California Adventure Park. It’s about a five-minute walk from the entrance to Disneyland Park. You can even enter Disney’s California Adventure Park directly from the grounds of the hotel (with a park ticket). To get to Disneyland, you can take the monorail from inside Downtown Disney directly into Tomorrowland in the parks — but again, you need a valid admission ticket to the park.
Disneyland was abuzz with the opening of Star Wars Land during my stay, and the check-in process couldn’t have been better. The room was ready early, and the hotel staff cheerfully assisted with my Galaxy’s Edge reservation. There were no upgrades offered or requested. My only request (other than for help with Star Wars reservations) was for late checkout, which could not be accommodated.
Just like at Disney World, you can have your luggage transferred from one Disneyland hotel to another, which I took advantage of, and my bag was waiting for me at the Grand Californian after being sent over from the Disneyland Hotel.
The rooms at the Grand Californian were fresh, with very handy and practical storage space under the beds. On the walls were painted fruit trees, with Chip and Dale making a cute appearance.
On another level, I was beyond thrilled for the outlets near the bed, which isn’t always a given at a Disney property.
The queen beds were extremely comfortable, and my short test of the sofa bed proved it to be a good option, too. Disney sofa beds are some of the best (and easiest to use) in the business. My understanding is that these rooms for five are pretty rare at the Grand Californian, so don’t count on one unless you book a room for five — though, clearly, exceptions happen.
The bathroom unlocked more cute and practical touches, such as a child stepstool with its own version of a somewhat-Hidden Mickey.
The sink was a double vanity with the crowd-pleasing Disney H2O+ bath amenities neatly arranged.
The bathroom itself was separate from the vanity and consisted of a nice walk-in shower. Very interestingly, there was no tub in this room for five, which was great for my solo stay, but it certainly struck me as odd for a presumably family-oriented property.
The towels were white and fluffy, the water pressure great and the two robes neatly hung and adorably embroidered with the resort’s logo.
Food and Beverage
Disney’s Grand Californian had many restaurants, ranging from insanely pricey to quick-service. On the entry-level end of the spectrum there was the White Water Snacks, which accepted mobile orders and was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We found menu items such as waffles, avocado toast, quiche, salads, poke bowls and sandwiches at prices generally less than $15 per item.
The middle-of-the-road (but still pretty high-end) dining option was Storytellers Cafe, home to a buffet that featured characters who paraded through the restaurant and stopped by your table during breakfast and brunch.
I found the food to be quite tasty for a buffet and the service to be very good. However, some of the characters missed our table during the meal, which was something I’d never had happen at a Disney character meal before. It was almost as if they’d lost track. (And no, it wasn’t just me as a solo adult at the table hoping for characters — I met some California cousins and their kids for breakfast.)
Breakfast here was $44 for adults and $26 for kids. Unlike at Disney World, where dining reservations are all but required for many character meals, dining reservations are a good idea but not necessarily a must at Disneyland, and we were able to walk right in for breakfast on a Saturday morning without reservations.
At the high end of dining options at the Grand Californian, we find Napa Rose. Sit down for this one, but the princess breakfast here was $125 per person — even for children ages 3 and up. That price did not include tax and gratuity, so round up.
I met friends here for dinner, and while it wasn’t cheap, thankfully it wasn’t $125 more (or way more) per person. That said, this is not a place I would dine with young kids, as it is a restaurant meant to be enjoyed.
We shared the spring harvest salad and wood-fired pizzetta to start, and frankly, should have stopped there, as they were delicious and filling. This was especially true when you factored in the mouthwatering breadbasket.
The main course of Scottish salmon was tasty, but the pizza and salad would have been plenty.
However, none of that stopped us from sampling the grilled angel food cake that looked nothing like I expected. It was fun for a few bites, but again, the starters could have easily been the meal, along with the wine.
The Grand Californian was rich with amenities, a standout being the themed pool complex with waterslide, lifeguards and life vests.
The pools were heated, but if that wasn’t good enough, there was also a hot tub.
Cabanas were available to rent for several hundred dollars per day, but you didn’t have to pay anything extra to lounge in the most comfortable poolside chairs I had ever laid in.
There was a spa at the Grand Californian, as well as a Disney gift shop in the lobby.
I loved all the little touches, such as cartoons with small chairs in the lobby.
In the lobby we also found piano music, a warm fireplace and a welcoming atmosphere.
Staying at the Grand Californian while at Disneyland gives you the best of the best. In addition to everything mentioned, you also get access to Extra Magic Hours, which means early entry to Disneyland on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and early entry into Disney California Adventure on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
The only problem with the Grand Californian is that it’s expensive, and if you’re spending your days in the parks, you won’t be able to fully enjoy what it has to offer. Unlike at Disney World, where there are lots of tradeoffs in staying off site, you can have a great Disneyland trip and not spend over $500 per night for an on-property resort.
However, I 100% loved my stay. I would absolutely love to stay at the Grand Californian again, but I think a two-night stay would be my max, because of the cost and all the other things I’m likely to be doing while in the area. Spend your time here when you can find discounted rates or book with Disney Vacation Club points or when you have nonpark time to enjoy the activities and amenities.
Are you planning a trip to Disneyland with your family? Here are more resources:
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- Where to Stay at Disneyland: On vs. Off-Property Hotel Comparisons
- Skip the Lines at Disneyland: 10 Line-Busting Tips for Less Waiting and More Playing
- 10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland With Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Best Restaurants at Disneyland
- How to Save Money Buying Discounted Disney Gift Cards
- How to Use Points for Disney Tickets
- Guide to Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- Best Food at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
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